stigma free zone story

Jacob

Looking back, I am fresh into the eighth grade. Being your typical boy in that age range, I felt confident, loud, anxious and proud. But little did I know that there was something that would really shape me into someone completely different. Soon I wasn’t myself anymore. Initially, I was a video game enthusiast, into sports and most of all an internet video watcher. All of these activities that I used to love started becoming more and more distant. They went from being everyday activities to just happening once a week to almost non-existent. As the distance was taking place there was an alternative force that kicked in. It was mania and fairly soon thereafter, I truly believed I was going to Harvard! I was spending all of my money, I was super cheerful and most of all I felt really lost. After months of having these experiences, I noticed I wasn’t gaming anymore, I wasn’t enjoying my sports in the same manner and the internet videos I watched weren’t the same either. I soon noticed that I had a problem and instead of reaching for help, I thought I’d try and “get over it” on my own. shutterstock_59006449 (2)Fast forward about a year, I’m in my room one night curled up in the fetal position hiding from the TV remote of all things. Something wasn’t right, so I texted a good friend of mine who explained that I needed to get help so I emailed my teacher. My teacher then got help via the police whom had knowledge on mental health crisis situations and then I was admitted into the hospital. I didn’t feel comfortable explaining what had happened, so I was discharged. The next few days were extremely difficult and I was then shifted through a couple of mental health related programs before being diagnosed with Psychosis. I did not share my experience of believing I was going to Harvard, which was a grandiose thought, so as time went on we addressed a lot of the problems I was having, but something just dawned upon me one day about the strange thoughts that I had been experiencing. My beliefs about going to Harvard weren’t actually good for me at all and were completely out of perspective. As times were changing, I no longer felt overcome by my situation anymore and I was starting to get back out into the community. Giving back to everyone. One of the great things I have done is having been part of a working team on a mental health companion app called “Booster Buddy.” The app was made to help people cope with mental illness in a way that has never been done before.

Giving people hope that they could never have achieved on their own. Not only was it giving hope to others, but it gave me hope that I could contribute to the community in a meaningful way. Booster Buddy shows me that mental illness hasn’t taken over my life, but it actually gave my life meaning. A purpose if you will.

However, even with my successes with the “Booster Buddy” app things began to falter fstigma free zone or me. My grades were plummeting. I went from an okay school average student to barely passing and then to even failing. I honestly thought I’d have to drop out of high school because I couldn’t produce passing grades. It also didn’t help that my home life was getting hard because my parents knew in their hearts I wasn’t going to graduate and certainly not on time. However, I started picking up some of the slack and started passing some of my courses in grade 11. By grade 12, I had several courses to make up and I mean a lot! I ended up taking those classes and although it wasn’t an easy course load, I managed to graduate on time. I also managed to get into a local college for their September intake for cooking. During this time, I attended a Bipolar Babes Teens2Twenties Peer Support Group and this certainly encouraged me to stay on track. I have been working as a dishwasher at a local restaurant as it relates to my future dreams to be a cook in a kitchen. Although, it is still very difficult to manage my mental health and get by at times, I know I have come a long way in so many respects and I now have hope that all things will work itself out. I feel it is important to talk about mental health and to reach out for help and I am glad that I did.

Drella

When I was 16 years old, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder (NOS), NOS means that they weren’t sure what “kind” of bipolar I may have. That sat in my throat, and then in my chest, like a rock. It was another question mark covering the barren landscape that had become my life. I didn’t know what my gender, sexuality, mystery learning disabilities, cultural background or even what my personality was like when I wasn’t a nervous wreck, and now I had bipolar, a very lazy, irrational, anxious and vague bipolar. For the most part I kept to myself, had one signature in my year book, a couple of friends and a boyfriend I was way too attached to. I “chameleoned” as I called it then, blending into each and every new surrounding. I later grew to realize I was living in “hunter gatherer” mode, always hiding, hunting or gathering, never more than that. I searched for happiness in romantic relationships and various risky decisions. When I couldn’t find it there I would lash out. I didn’t feel like myself. I was always on edge and was ready to snap back at anyone who dared to reach out to help. I moved into my first apartment in May 2015, I was 18 years old. I had just shaved my head, a fresh start. I was all smiles. Months into my new life I found myself feeling isolated. I had jumped around from shelters to group homes to hospitals, every family member. After a constant, steady flow of people of all walks of life, I felt very alone. My anxiety grew, and soon enough I felt as though I had a ball and chain around my ankles. This was not a new feeling for me, but this time there was no one around that knew what to say or do.

How I Deal with Having Bipolar Disorder

Working with children and youth got me out of that situation, it reminded me of who I was, and what my values were, something that it felt like I had forgotten. Leaving that relationship and starting my own life in a new neighbourhood was exhilarating. Feeling myself go from hunter-gatherer to happy hippie makes it all worth it. Being sad or scared when you think your life is at risk is a beautiful thing. Wanting to hold onto these precious minutes and seconds is the greatest gift I ever gave to myself. It means I still want to be here. Not everyone does, I know too well. I let go of my obsession with conventional romance. I let go of the weight of the internet’s pressure to look like perfection in my real life. I forgave people that hurt me in the past by striving to understand their situation. I went from living on restaurant food, cigarettes, chocolate and Diet Coke to a vegetarian diet, which I mostly eat still as long as my physical health allows it. I eat fruits and vegetables every day, I drink kefir and kombucha. I read, I write, I make art. I cook with new spices and vegetables. I drink water and chamomile tea. I quit smoking cigarettes after almost a pack a day off and on for the past 5 years. I exercise every day. I listen to what my body tells me, the brain takes care of itself from there. All of this happened gradually and relatively easily once it gained traction. The Bipolar Babes Teens2Twenties Support Group was and is a key factor in all of this, it was something that got me outside my room at least once a week, where I could get used to interacting with people my own age again. Going on to become a Youth Co-Facilitator is something I take great pride in that brings a lot of happiness to my life.

Words of Encouragement

Having a mental illness diagnosis can feel like running in circles, sedated or isolated in the hospital or sitting in a corner across the room from a psychiatrist makes me feel like a lab rat sometimes. Accessing stigma-free (physical and mental) health care, housing and education is a literal nightmare, often causing stress which can trigger psychosis, panic attacks or irrational thinking. Having door after door slammed in your face is even less fun than it sounds when you’re also seeing things that aren’t there or hearing voices that don’t seem to belong to anyone. Many of us stick with each other, leading us to feel like it is us against them, a depressing idea to wrap your head around. shutterstock_85269574 (2)At what were some of the lowest points of my illness I traveled to France, the Netherlands, England, Italy, Japan, America and parts of Canada. I fell in love. I made friends. I learned new life skills. I began to better understand art. I learned the difference between sympathy and empathy. I was depressed, but I did all of those things. Mental illness isn’t a pre-determined dead end. After discovering healthy choices, mindfulness, my surprising interest in economics, education and regular acupuncture, this muddy feeling is starting to lift. Many of us thrive in an artistic atmosphere. Music, dance and art heal the mind and the soul. Not all of us, but I am so proud of this common trait. The less I let bipolar be something that defines me, the stronger I am. I define how I live with and accept this part of my life. I am am artist and a passionate musician. I am a loving big sister and a caring friend. My loved ones are my earth, moon and stars. That includes myself. As long as I don’t stop dreaming, I know have a chance. Plant a garden, water your future, come back to it and you will see it has grown. My name is Drella Saro, and if you don’t believe in yourself, just know that I believe in you.

Andrea Paquette bipolar babe

Andrea

Hello, my name is Andrea Paquette and I am known as the Bipolar Babe in the mental health community. I founded the Bipolar Disorder Society of British Columbia by launching www.bipolarbabes.com and from the beginning my mandate is to stomp out stigma. The Society has been in operation since 2010 and I am so happy to be the Executive Director of this impactful Charity. Having been diagnosed with bipolar disorder at the age of 25 years old, I know what it means to face stigma internally and externally. It is my desire to share my personal experiences of living with bipolar and how I have managed stigma throughout my life for the past 14 years. I have been on many amazing Bipolar Babes’ adventures throughout the years and have the privilege of working with hundreds of people as a support group facilitator providing them with the tools necessary, so they can empower themselves. I have also spoken to over 12,000 people about my personal story over the years in the community, while mainly focusing on youth in schools. My most recent cherished moment is being awarded the 2015 Courage To Come Back Award in the category of mental health given by Coast Mental Health. You are probably wondering what I mean by stating that I have faced internal and external stigma. Upon my diagnosis, I did not feel initially stigmatized and I did not know what to expect from others in regards to my diagnosis. However, as time passed I was faced with people kicking me out of my own home and confiscating my key to having ‘friends’ abandon me upon discovering that I had a mental illness.  I have also been internally stigmatized, which was a direct result from my experiences with the people in my life over the years. I was barely able to look at myself in the mirror without shame and guilt emitting from my perceived negative image. Over the years, I have learned to grow more accepting of myself, and I fought against this negative and stigmatized version of myself. Today, I truly believe that I am a good person, who deserves good things in life and I now see myself through the same lens as my loved ones see me. I am grateful to offer hope, love and an appreciation for others. I am both privileged and honoured to share my personal experiences about stigma and my mental health journey because I feel it is a vitally important conversation. I hope to provide encouragement to help others overcome the negative effects that stigma can have on others, and perhaps remind myself along the way that I too am worthy, loved, and appreciated by many. We often need to be told such things and I am here to do just that. Hope to see you in Greater Vancouver at one of our Stigma-Free Zone Superheroes classroom presentations this semester! Currently, I am the sole presenter for our Program, but there are many more Superheroes on the way who will be offering presentations in the future. Please feel free to visit my Bipolar Babes Blog on our Bipolar Babes website. Thank you! ~Andrea AKA Bipolar Babe

Sarah

I’m Sarah Fader. I’m a 36 year old single mother of two children living in New York City. I live with panic disorder, ADHD, PTSD and Major Depressive Disorder. I started Stigma Fighters, a mental health non-profit organization after I told my story about living with mental illness for The Huffington Post – Fighting Against the Stigma of Mental Illness. After I wrote my truth on this large public forum, I received emails from around the world saying that they admired my candor and wished there was a centralized place for them to speak about living with mental illness. I searched around the Internet and I couldn’t find a place where people could talk about living with mental illness in personal narrative form. So I decided to create a space for this. It’s called StigmaFighters.com  and we feature 1000 word essay from real people living with mental illness. Anyone is welcome to submit their story to us. We want to normalize what living with mental illness is like. It is possible to live a full productive life when you have mental illness. My best friend Allie Burke (who is the Vice President of Stigma Fighters) is a best-selling author, writer for Psychology Today, the founder of a literary society and she lives with paranoid schizophrenia. She is the strongest person I know. I admire her brutal honesty and tenacity to get what she wants out of life. Stigma Fighters is a space where people living with mental illness can express themselves truthfully. We want to hear what you have experienced and we want to give others hope. Will you share you story with us? You can submit here: Stigma Fighters – Submit Your Story Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good day New York.  Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time. Check out Sarah’s book: Old School – New School Mom